Encouraging people not to vote
June 8, 2016 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Imagine a political ad which addresses GOP voters and tries to persuade them to not vote at all in November. That is, it doesn't promote any candidate but simply targets GOP voters and tells them to "This year, stay home". Would such an ad be regarded as illegal, inappropriate or "bad sportsmanship" in the US? Or are these kind of "stay home this November" ads commonplace? Asking from outside the US!
posted by dave99 to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bad sportsmanship, and counterproductive. It'd be more likely to encourage them to vote. I can't recall this ever being done before, and it may also run foul of voter suppression laws.
posted by corb at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've seen these sorts of "Don't bother" ads before, but they're parodies. They always end with "That's what THEY want you to think. Are you going to let THEM tell you what to do?!?"

And that's exactly why no one really makes them -- the other side would immediately grab on to it not just in their ads, but they'd paper the news channels and talk shows with "Look at this disGUSTing attempt by LIEberals to tell the PEOPLE that they shouldn't VOTE how DARE they!"

(And if you're thinking, well, isn't that the same as voter suppression via ID laws and shorter polling hours and suchlike, yes, but that's too subtle for Fox and Friends.)
posted by Etrigan at 6:47 AM on June 8, 2016

Most voter suppression, depression and disenfranchisement is done through local and regional politics and regulations not mass market ads. The basic reason it's not done isn't decorum, that's gone, but the simple fact that a TV ad "saying don't look at X!" is basically going to do the opposite.

Now studies do indicate that a 'bonus' of attack ads is sometimes lower voter turnout which is sometimes the goal of massive negative ad spends in certain districts.
posted by French Fry at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Absolutely not illegal - even if someone tried to pass a law against this, it would absolutely be struck down under the First Amendment. People have the right to tell you not to vote, as long as they're not doing something like THREATENING you if you do vote (obviously that could enter into illegality territory).

But, I have to agree that it would probably be pretty ineffective. That said, negative ads do often have the effect of depressing turnout, without the explicit "Don't show up" messaging.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:08 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

There is a reason this only shows up as an object of derision in pop culture - black people don't vote.
posted by andoatnp at 7:13 AM on June 8, 2016

This is the point of at least some negative political advertising. Not to get you to vote for the other guy, but to make you feel so disgusted at the whole political process that you don't vote at all.
posted by adamrice at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Such an ad is not commonplace. Inappropriate? Bad Sportsmanship? Sure, in the eyes of the parties looking to be on the losing end of that proposition. But then again, "inappropriate" or "bad sportsmanship" is hardly unknown in American campaigns. It's just that "don't vote" ads simply don't exist afaik. The 2016 election may be the first where I can envision such an ad even being proposed. By Republicans, addressing GOP voters. Not that I think it will happen.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:02 AM on June 8, 2016

Frankly, I think a lot more ads like this run than we realize. The thing is that if you explicitly tell people to stay home, they're going to feel like you're insulting them and attempting to disenfranchise them. So instead, you just try to convince them to specifically not vote for the candidate they were most likely to vote for.

There are going to be plenty of ads this year trying to convince people not to vote for Trump. Sure, the Dems would prefer that these ads result in people voting D instead. But the much more likely effect on the target audience (firm Republicans) is that they decide that they can't stomach voting for Trump, but they really can't stomach voting for Clinton, so they just to sit this one out. And the people behind the ad are totally happy with that outcome.
posted by 256 at 8:38 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

The answer depends on how it's done.

A TV ad encouraging folks not to vote would, as mentioned above, be counterproductive but not illegal; same for a billboard or any other thrown-out-there-to-everyone method of spreading the word. On the other hand, targeting specific potential voters via, say, phone calls to selected people probably crosses over the line into illegal voter suppression.

If I recall correctly, there was a case a few years ago where a GOP phone bank in Maryland made calls on election day to registered Democratic voters, with the phone bank posing as Democratic poll workers, telling those targeted voters that if they hadn't already voted, there was no need to bother because the votes already cast were more than enough. THAT was very clearly illegal voter suppression.
posted by easily confused at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think if it were done correctly, it might be possible to craft a "don't bother to vote" ad that ostensibly was non partisan but in reality was more effective in persuading likely Trump voters to stay home than persuading likely Clinton voters to stay home. I wouldn't know how to do it, but I would be surprised if there weren't someone who did know how. If the reasons that people who like Trump might decide it wasn't worth a trip to the polls were sufficiently distinct from the reasons likely Hillary voters would stay home, and you could identify what those reasons were, just create a "don't vote" ad focused on those issues without openly referencing either candidate or political party.
posted by layceepee at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2016

There have been instances of flyers going out in largely African American neighborhoods advising people that if they show up to vote they can be arrested on any outstanding warrants.
posted by teleri025 at 9:30 AM on June 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

targeting specific potential voters via, say, phone calls to selected people probably crosses over the line into illegal voter suppression.

As long as it's not deceptive or lying, it's legal. The first amendment isn't a polite suggestion, but an absolute bar to punishing opinion and attempts at persuasion.
posted by jpe at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2016

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